NextGen Success Hinges on Showing Big Picture Integration

By Scott Spangler on August 27th, 2010

Like many pilots, I still haven’t gotten my head around all the details related to the Next Generation National Airspace System. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, I figured, would be the perfect place to learn more about its components, like ADS-B, the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system, and have the people who really know paint me a big picture of how they all work together.

Imagine my surprise when a line-by-line reading of the forum schedule revealed just four NextGen presentations, none of them delivered by the people building the new system, and one of them, “Next Generations Homebuilts: Just Build Them,” while extremely interesting, had nothing to do with the NextGen system.

On Monday, Jamie Luster of FreeFlight Systems, which makes ADS-B equipment for store-bought and amateur-built airplanes discussed “ADS-B Ruling and Equipage.” He explained the differences between the two systems, Out, which will one day replace less precise ground radar stations, and In, which will bring weather and traffic info to the cockpit (one day in the now seemingly distant future). On Friday, David Zwegers, director of aviation safety at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach campus discussed “ADS-B: What’s in it for me?” He showed how the GPS-based system will help accident investigation and prevention.

AV02-004 The most interesting of the four was Steve Fulton’s Tuesday showcase of serpentine instrument approaches through valleys to extreme mountain airports in China and New Zealand clearly demonstrated what performance-based navigation brings to NextGen. A Technical Fellow for GE Aviation Systems, he is co-founder of Naverus Inc., which created the PBN approaches to these extreme airports. Afterwards, on my way to the FAA hangar, out of curiosity I passed through the Federal Pavilion. There I stumbled on NOAA’s Role in the NextGen system, which equaled the PBN forum because weather is often a daily challenge.

Captivated, I joined a handful of people paying attention to the NOAA staffer. Weather causes 70 percent of aviation delays, and to overcome this, NextGen will better integrate the weather offices with ATC so that route selection will be proactive, not reactive. He expertly and patiently answered all questions, except one: he didn’t know why his presentation was not listed anywhere that I could find. He answered my last question, about the inefficiency of bureaucratic silos with a diplomatic shrug of his shoulders.

AV02-011 Only one exhibitor in the NextGen compound that filled the center of the FAA hangar knew that NOAA played a crucial role in the system’s future, and it came from an FAA office I’d never heard of before: System Wide Information Management, or SWIM. This program’s goal is to develop the system that increases the sharing of information crucial to efficient air traffic management. That information includes flight data, airport status, what’s going on in special use airspace—and weather. Even better, they are developing the system using commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software, so we taxpayers won’t get stuck paying for a custom designed system that, like most custom government programs, costs more and does less than planned.

I have no doubt that they will get the job done. But if the Feds want us, the flying community and public, to get on board, they must take a lesson from SWIM and mount a unified information and education program, online and face-to-face at gatherings like EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, AOPA Summit, and NBAA regional and national events.  Imagine the efficiency, the time and money saved, if all the players from the diverse government offices united in a single, concerted effort to both build—and explain—NextGen. –Scott Spangler

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